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Report on the launch of

African Women and ICTs: Investigating Technology, Gender and Empowerment Kampala, Uganda

BOOK REVIEWS

Prepared by Susan Bakesha

11th February 2010 Venue: Department of Food Science and Technology, Makerere University


Book Reviews

Before the launch, two people were identified to review the book and share their findings with the audience. This was intended to provide the audience with a deeper understanding of the book from an objective point of view, since the reviewers were not GRACE researchers. The reviewers were asked to read the book and help the audience understand what the book was all about, highlighting the issues covered and how they relate to women’s empowerment. The book reviewers were Ms Beatrice Lamwaka of FEMWRITE and Mr Aramanzan Madanda from the Department of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University Review by Ms Beatrice Lamwaka

Ms Beatrice Lamwaka presenting her review of the book

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Introduction

African Women and ICTs explores the ways in which women in Africa exploit ICTs to facilitate their empowerment through the mobile phone business, through Internet use, and career and ICT employment opportunities. This is an outcome of a 3-year extensive research project by 14 research teams who investigated situations within their own communities and countries. Issues raised include ICTs for empowerment and as agents of change, ICTs in the fight against gender-based violence, and how ICTs could be used to reconceptualize public and private spaces. The book is subdivided into four parts. “ICT tools: Access and use” deals with how women’s lives have been changed by the various technologies and how they are limited in accessing and using these tools. These women’s lack of access and use is related to lack of infrastructure, poverty and illiteracy. “Female-only ICT spaces: Perceptions and practices” – women are benefiting from or would benefit from ‘female-only’ spaces they create themselves or which could be created for them through and with ICTs. In these spaces women express themselves, learn, network and trade. “Using ICTs: Making life better?” describes how women use ICTs to increase control over their time and space in their personal and professional lives, while “Creating new realities” describes how women use ICTs to enhance their lives according to their own designs. The book analyses

the

relationships

between

ICTs,

women’s

empowerment,

gender

discrimination, access, entrepreneurship and advocacy among others. Issues emerging from African women and ICTs The roles of different NGOs in empowering women in rural communities are highlighted in this book. As readers we get to know factors that facilitated the utilization of the CDROM titled “Rural women of Africa: ideas of earning money”. The project was proposed by the International Women’s Tribunal Centre (IWTC) implemented by the Uganda National Council of Science and Technology in partnership with NGOs including 3


Economic Empowerment of Women of Africa (CEEWA), Media One and Uganda Development Services that in 2001 pioneered telecentres in Nakaseke, Buwama and Nabweru. It was noted that donors and development agencies are supporting incomegenerating activities that have been focusing on micro and small enterprises as a tool for poverty alleviation in Egypt for years. As we read the book, we realize that the global crafts - in this case women artisan - market is a highly competitive sphere, both in price and quality. Therefore the women need to support the market in order to benefit from their products. This kind of information can direct donors’ support for women empowerment in the right way. Gender inequalities still exist in most African communities; the research showed that women enjoy fewer benefits from ICTs than men, and that existing gender inequalities are often unaffected - or even perpetuated by - ICT use. It also found that genderbased obligations, societal biases, and even physical strength can restrict women’s ability to learn about or use new technologies. For example, women are less mobile and have less free time than men, and therefore cannot easily take advantage of training and other resources; male university students discourage their female peers from accessing computers in labs by pushing them out of line; women often feel uneasy or unwelcomed when visiting Internet cafés on their own; and ICT use can shift family dynamics and the balance of power, causing strife in the home which can lead to arguments, violence, divorce, and even death. In order to understand women’s dreams and desires beyond their female-accepted roles, it’s often necessary to create a mental space for women where they can experience that part of themselves and give it that voice. As Virginia Woolf argued in her book, A Room of One's Own, a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. As we read the book we realize that every woman needs her money to be empowered with ICT.

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Changes need to be made in society where women are fighting for survival, otherwise the digital gap will grow. There is a need to improve socio-economic conditions which could help women see technologies in other ways, and become empowered. At this stage of development the women’s absolute priority is tools that will increase their capabilities and their assets in the short term, by enabling them to work more efficiently, save time and costs, and achieve economic self-sufficiency for themselves and their households. For instance, in Mozambique, where 66% of the women are illiterate, they don’t speak Portuguese, the official language, they are poverty-stricken and marginalized; in order to empower such a group there is need for the conditions to change. This means that telecentres and other institutions involved in women’s development and empowerment have to make great efforts to provide content formats usable by rural women, by placing more emphasis on capabilities and socio-economic issues that rural women value. The Review The book is simple and easy to read, mainly because the methodology of the research was qualitative and exploratory. This develops an understanding of the situation for women entrepreneurs as the researchers used individual interviews, group discussions and life stories. Investigations are done using focus, consideration, and non-judgmental observation that includes examination of the subjects' as well as the researchers' values and dreams. The relationship between women, their empowerment and the use of ICTs in Africa is complex. Women’s struggles to overcome the limitations of their positions and identities through the use of ICTs have to be understood from within this context, and likewise their victories in overcoming such. African Women and ICTs highlights the context of each country covered in the book so that the readers can understand.

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Questions guide the readers for instance, do women in Manhica and Sussundenga in rural Mozambique use ICTs available in the districts? If so, what for? If not, why not? These guide the reader to see the direction that the research is leading and as readers we can also evaluate if the research was successful. The authors indicate ICTs in the lives of women in Africa who are getting on with the daily struggle for greater autonomy and equality with the perceptions of the women themselves, and a context that predominantly focuses attention on the promises of ICTs for development rather than the ongoing divisive inequalities.

African Women and ICTs gives the readers a peek into different African countries. For instance, in Morocco ICTs are helping raise awareness about domestic violence; women’s use of cell phones to meet their communication needs: a study of rural women from northern Nigeria; mobile phones in a time of modernity: the quest for increased self-sufficiency among women fishmongers and fish processors in Dakar. Reflections on the mentoring experiences of ICT career women in Nairobi, Kenya: looking in the mirror, etc. Enhancing women’s access to and use of ICTs therefore requires a transformation of people’s mindsets and knowledge of the world that have been shaped by gender inequality and by male domination. The male perspective that has shaped African societies and the role of women in the labour market and in the domestic sphere is a key variable of empowerment and disempowerment in the ICT sector. Most people say that they don’t like reading African books because they are dark, usually about war, genocide and sexual violation, but African Women and ICTs has success stories showing the strength and resilience of women, for instance Suzanne, an online crafts entrepreneur whose IT skills are sophisticated as she uses the Internet as a marketing resource. In Uganda the liberating effects of the phone business give the women economic power, autonomy and the chance to break free of the constraints imposed on them by the prevailing behaviour norms in the community. 6


I end with quotes from women who I admire, and I can’t agree with them more on what they say about the book, African Women and ICTs: “A detailed and absorbing account of how African women are using new technology to transform their lives – a major contribution to African Women’s studies. This important book celebrates their remarkable achievements, and explores how technology both enriches and complicates African society.” Margaret Walters “This book brings to light the strength and the resilience of the women who spoke with the authors, yet also the slim margin there is for true empowerment within the context in which they live. I commend this valuable initiative.” Graca Machel Review by Mr Aramanzan Madanda

Mr Aramanzan Madanda making his presentation

On commencing a comprehensive review of this book, many questions were posed: What is in it that is new, theoretically, methodologically, conceptually and factually? 7


What are the important findings about African Women and ICTs in relation to women’s empowerment? From its title, the book is women-focused and therefore, what has a man got to do with it? On reading, it is easy to discover that African women and ICTs is not just an edited collection of articles from various “scholars” coalescing to author a book. It is a reflection of a serious joint effort from research teams spread in 12 African countries working on a project, Gender Research in Africa into ICTs for Empowerment (GRACE). To allay my anxiety about regarding a man’s intrusiveness, at least four of the 29 authors are male, even the “problem” of men researching women is identified and articulated in the book as well. While the book is written by many teams from various African countries, the common methodological and theoretical thread that runs through it is its grounding in an anthropological approach informed by rigorous feminist thought. The authors state that they set out to explore external or structural barriers as well as the internal or conceptual factors which prevent or enable women to use ICTs in a context that predominantly focuses attention on the promises of ICTs for development. This set me thinking that this book is about the familiar business of engaging with barriers to women’s access to ICTs that has been articulated variously since the beginning of 2000 by a range of authors, including N. Hafkin, S. Jorge, N. Taggart, S. Bakesha, S. Huyer and A. Madanda, to mention but a few. I also thought the book might be a profiling of “success stories” which has also been a key preoccupation of many international, regional, national and local “development agencies.” My thinking was also that the engagement with the usual might be spiced with sophisticated lengthy and winding arguments drawn from development theory around issues of technological determinism versus social determinism, whereby the former touts technology over society while the later elevates society as over technology. This would have reopened an endemic debate whose long history and foreseeable future do not show any signs of convergence.

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That kind of debate would have been the old known stuff. Moreover, having recently gone through the 2008, 3rd edition of Gilbert Rist’s book; The History of Development:

From Western Origins to Global Faith, published by Zed Books, I had become a keen believer in his “novelty is rare” notion. This approach would have entrenched my faith in Gilbert Rist’s assertion. The authors of African Women and ICTs, however, skillfully circumvent this explosive debate on developmentalism, seeking to immerse themselves in the diverse unique experiences of women and ICTs in Africa, returning to it only in the epilogue (conclusion). This is where both Ineke Buskens and Anne Webb, the editors, state on page 208: “The potential of ICTs to enhance our lives in an equitable society is tremendous. Yet for this to occur, the rapid spread and pervasiveness of these technologies need to be regulated in the interests of pursuing the development of a non-discriminatory society, and to be accompanied by efforts to reduce...disparities.” Despite the apparent real and potential benefits of ICTs, particularly for women’s empowerment, this statement is a powerful indication of the inadequacies of the current ICT policies within which ICT is being propagated at institutional and national levels in Africa. It is clear that the current policies are deficient and need attention so that the huge potential of ICTs can be enhanced for various purposes: women’s empowerment, poverty reduction, reduction or elimination of inequalities of all sorts, and so on. This is an important conclusion that resonates with many other scholarly and experiential pieces of research in the arena of studies exploring the link between gender, ICTs and development. Yet the above is a conclusion based on a wealth of experiences and analyses in the case studies elaborated in the 222 pages spanning 17 chapters of the book. For instance, it is based on the finding in a Zimbabwean University that the fair “first come, first served” computer access policy for students is after all not fair, and excludes most of the female students. It is based on the finding from Uganda that the benefits derived from ICT and mobile phones by women may not automatically enhance women’s 9


empowerment when issues of power and gender in the families are not addressed, for these may make the situation explosive to women as well. It is also based on the elaboration from the South African case study which shows that if household energy needs in general and women’s energy needs in particular are not addressed, the benefits from ICT may be compromised. The conclusion also arises from the example from Morocco which shows that women could use simple computer applications and mobile phones to address gender-based violence, while in other examples it is shown that the use of ICT does not necessarily challenge gender inequality and may perpetuate gender-based violence. One weakness of this engaging collection is that the book is entirely qualitative, to the extent that if a reader is interested in the positivist tradition of, frequencies, numbers, tables, cross-tabulations, levels of significance and degrees of freedom, that cannot be found in here. Yet the rigorous employment of qualitative methodology and case studies by the authors is phenomenal and constitutes the core methodological strength of the book. The book does not only let the reader traverse the different writing styles, expertise and rich diversity drawn from the interviews, but also covers a wide geographical and cultural ground, with case studies drawn from countries in North Africa (Egypt, Morocco), Southern Africa (South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe), West Africa (Nigeria, Senegal), Central Africa (Cameroon), East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda). While the authors do not lay a claim to representativeness, the rich material speaks for itself. Of course, some countries, such as the turbulent Somalia, and the small ones such as Eritrea, Cape Verde and Mauritius, miss out. Even then, the range of countries covered gives a broader part of the story of African women. The topics covered address various themes, ranging from accessibility and passive use of ICTs, to perceptions of and practices in women-only ICT spaces, and women’s use of ICTS in their empowerment as well as creating new realities in ICT with respect to professional women and mentoring. 10


Topics covered include entrepreneurship, use of mobile phones, Internet and other computer applications. The book also covers topics that have not been significantly addressed before, such as the intersection of ICT and violence against women. An interesting addition is a chapter by Salome Awour Omamo, which is not just about the role of mentoring in ICT but also the benefits of mentoring, elucidating on the question of what mentors learn and benefit from mentoring. But it is the chapter by Ruth Meena and Mary Rusimbi that takes the notion of reflexivity in qualitative research beyond the obvious. These two authors not only reflect on the research subjects and their own experiences but actually turn themselves into research subjects, including their own stories into the chapter and rigorously analysing them. The research approach adopted sets the writing of the book apart, and endows it with rich experiences of not only the researched but also the researchers. I entirely agree with the opinion of Nancy Hafkin carried on the back cover that “those

interested in women’s empowerment and its relationship to technology will find this book a highly innovative approach to the subject, combining a unique perspective with case studies from a wide variety of African countries and settings.” I would add that even when the book has independent chapters, readers would maximize its utility by treating it as a complete whole. The book is a rich and accessible account of the subject of women’s empowerment and ICT in Africa using a rigorous qualitative approach that appropriates and innovatively puts feminist thought and the notion of reflexivity to invaluable use.

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GRACE book launch report, reviews  

African Women and ICTs: Investigating Technology, Gender and Empowerment Prepared by Susan Bakesha 11th February 2010 Kampala, Uganda Report...

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